By Steve Kish
Some years back, the round mound of rebound Charles Barkley stated he wasn’t a role model in a Nike commercial. People questioned the statement and the ad. It was bold and brash. Cutting edge for its time. Back when Barkley uttered those words, sports figures were huge role models. Jordan, Magic, Bird, Montana, Boggs, Elway, the list could go on for four pages back in the early 1990s. Children looked up to them, admired them, wanted to be like Mike. This was before the pay scale for athletes went insane, and the world wide web was in its infant stages.
Today, athletes are paid millions before they do anything on the court or field. Sam Bradford signed a rookie deal worth more money at the time then two time Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady was getting paid. What sense does that make? Yeah, they worked hard all their life, prepared, sacrificed some of the normal things kids do growing up. They shined in high school and stood out in college. What sense does it make to give a usually early 20’s male millions of dollars to play with and two to pay a player more than Pro Bowl players and Super Bowl MVP’s before they take one snap on the field.
With the new NFL CBA, that problem has diminished some. What hasn’t changed is that these players are handed millions of dollars in a signing bonus. Usually, players that didn’t come from money or came from rough neighborhoods. They usually haven’t seen how to handle money, how to be responsible with it. Ask Terrell Owens how he lost his millions. Yes, the NFL has classes and tries to teach players what to do, the right way to handle their finances. The NFL can’t monitor a player’s financial actions.
Problem number two is we the fans and media have made these players larger than life. We are able to watch highlights of them on Youtube. They get highly recruited and get to announce it to the entire world via ESPN, Twitter or their Facebook. These 17 and 18 year old kids are given news conferences to where they are going to sign. Why, all this causes is them getting their first taste of national stardom. From there, their college careers are followed, stats are thrown out about them right and left. They are talked up and ego boosted. Seeing yourself on Sportscenter four times a week with the amazing catch or punishing hit only adds to the larger than life feeling.
Junior year comes, Heisman hopeful, will he or won’t he declare for the NFL Draft. That year, they see the media build up their football value. Make them a Brand. Now they aren’t just john smith, they are THE JOHN SMITH. Highlight film after highlight film gets played of them. Then they announce they are going pro. That takes them to the next level of coverage of them. Then character is talked about, upside, downside, highlight film after highlight film. What they did on the field is being broken down on national television with praise at the end. Yes, there is the well he needs to get better at this, or he
should have done this at this moment in the breakdowns, but at the end it always ends the same. With his skill level, he should be a great NFL player. Yet another ego boost and building the larger than life persona.
Then the dream becomes reality. They get drafted. They walk across that podium and shake Roger Goodell’s hand, hold up the jersey and then get interviewed. Next they sign that contract worth millions. With this new found money they go and hire a bodyguard and this and that. They surround themselves with people that may or may not be the best influences for them. Everybody likes to hang out with the star, the big name. These players start to trust these people they are paying, they do, and these people are just yes men. Who would tell the guy that is paying you ridiculous amounts of cash to basically hang with them no. Why would they risk getting thrown out of the inner circle. This is just adding to the problem, they get a sense of always being right. Sure the coach yells at them on the field but off the field, Rockstar. The culture is not what it needs to be, what it should be.
NFL teams do more research on draftees than most companies do on CEOs. They know the pluses and minuses of these guys. Not just on the football field but also their personal life. Most fans with all the media outlets will do their research too. You read about the marijuana arrests, the DUI arrests, and everything else. Yet the NFl looks past that, teams say well he has off the field issues but gosh he can sure get to the quarterback. The NFL separates itself from the normal work world. Yes, Goodell has stepped in and thrown down the law, but to players saying it is unfair, and ridiculous. Surprisingly, there are fans that back the players. In the real workplace, you go through a background check to get a job. DUIs, marijuana arrests and other arrests usually aren’t looked past. It says something about you, your character. The person you are and most likely will be. Failing a drug test usually means suspension and termination. In the NFL, sure you get suspended. But termination? No.
Pacman Jones was thrown out of the league; he just didn’t get it. Vick was jailed, Burress was jailed yet all are back in the NFL making millions again. What does this say to those coming into the league? Do what you want? Sure, you might get thrown out, but you can get back in, no worries. This offseason and especially this last week has been one NFL player in a bad headline after another. Peterson, Dumervil, Bryant, Lynch, and the list goes on. Bryant allegedly assaulted his mom, his mom. The woman that gave him life, this along with a lawsuit for not paying for jewelry, along with previous legal issues. Yet he will suit up and catch balls in Jerry’s House. Sure, he may get suspended; he has been suspended before and learned nothing.
The NFL needs to change its ways, needs to warn these players more about outside influences. With the billions the NFL brings, you think they would monitor their product better. Teach their product better. Let us be frank, these players are product. Without Bryant catching passes, without Peterson running through someone, without Dumervil blowing past the offensive line and throwing the quarterback to the turf the NFL doesn’t exist. The NFL looks past things it shouldn’t, teams look past character flaws it shouldn’t. NFL players have been arrested over 573 times since 2000. Thats 573 times that a “role model” has screwed up. I have done my research and know that Major League Baseball has a .1 percent higher arrest rate, and that the NFL arrest rate is actually half that of the average person. The difference is the names getting arrested. Also no offense to those doing the stat work but the MLB stat is based on only the MLB teams and not their AAA, AA, and the rest of their farm systems, which would actually lower their percentage. These NFl players being arrested are big names, MVP candidates, Pro Bowl players. The closest thing to a big name getting arrested in MLB is Delmon Young.
We as a culture need to adjust who we view as a role model. People attack and make fun of Tim Tebow, even dislike him. I have heard parents say, “I don’t want my kid to be like him.” Why? Because he has faith. Because he isn’t afraid to be who he is. Tebow, the Mannings and Brady should be role models. They lead by example, stay out of trouble. At this year’s rookie seminar, Vick spoke of his mistakes, his past transgressions.This is great, but these young players need the Mannings and Tebows of the the NFL talking to them. Preparing them for the future, preparing them to be role models.